“In today’s attached, always-on world, this is a place for people to get away, to restore themselves, and get a new perspective.” -- David Anderson, Founding Family Member of the Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford, Illinois.
Nature by itself has a way of replenishing us. When a landscape is specifically designed as a healing space, that is something special. That is exactly what happens at the Anderson Japanese Gardens.
During my visit to this garden, I left agendas and maps behind and let the garden path guide me; one scene led to another. As I moved deeper into the space, I was struck by the attention to detail. Path materials, the workmanship of the bamboo fencing, plant selection and placement all worked together to slow me down and connect me with nature.
While wandering around, I met a friendly couple who explained what the garden meant to them, “We first visited this garden years ago. We came to clear our heads and found it so restorative that we’ve come back ever since.” I could definitely see what they meant.
After my walk, I had a chance to speak with founding family member, David Anderson, who shared more about the mission and history of the place. With his knowledge of Japanese garden design and sense of purpose, David is the perfect ambassador for the garden. But his deep connection to this place comes from the fact that he grew up with this garden – it was part of his childhood home.
The story of this garden starts with Anderson’s father, who had traveled to Japan in high school. He was so inspired by how Japanese gardens made him feel, that in 1978, he turned to Landscape Architect Hoichi Karisu to turn his backyard into one. Karisu’s belief that “encounters with nature are essential to mental, physical, and spiritual equilibrium,” fit perfectly with Anderson’s father’s ambition for the landscape.
Anderson recalls early experiences in the garden: “I remember the boulders – most sourced from southeastern Wisconsin – coming in by the truck load. As a young kid, if we saw that a farmer had a stockpile, we’d knock on the door and ask to buy them. I rode my bike around the paths and skated on the pond.”
Today, Anderson wants everyone to enjoy the garden. “This is not an exclusive place, you don’t need to be an expert in Japanese culture to appreciate it. My goal is for people to feel welcome and inspired to make this part of their lives. We want to create a community here where all people come together to do something uplifting.” With nearly 50,000 visitors a year, he is off to a good start.
Each section of the garden is meant to represent the best of nature and to connect people to the spirituality of the place.
Anderson explained that the architect’s hand was visible in the design: “Hoichi’s imprint is everywhere. He placed every major rock and tree. He created mini scenes linked by a path so that one can’t see the entire garden from any one place. There are elements designed to slow you down – a rock, a branch, a change in paving. Trees are planted on an angle, not upright, to appear more natural.” Even what’s not there is intentional, “Visitors have asked us to label our plants but we chose not to, so as not to distract from nature and the overall composition.”
“The garden is designed to look its best year round by using rhythms, patterns, textures, and variations of green. Japanese maples, and blue spruce add color.” Plant material, ranging from natives to imports, include many from the Pacific northwest. The photos above emphasize the soothing greens of hostas, ferns, irises, and ginger. Springtime adds the sparkle of blooming peonies, dogwood, and azaleas seen at left.
The garden is considered one of the best Japanese Gardens in the US. This is the combined result of excellent design, a clear mission, and expert stewardship. Skilled gardeners bring the specialized pruning skills required to maintain the natural shape of the garden.
Add the Anderson Japanese Gardens to your list of places to visit this season. In addition to the garden you’ll find activities for all ages.
Here’s to restorative gardens! Click here to see more posts about this garden.